To say that I dislike collector’s editions of videogames wouldn’t be true at all, my pair of Arkham statues stand proud next to a lavishly garbed, albeit anachronistic Pagan Min on my bookshelf. However, to say that I haven’t a modicum of retrospective guilt, or a modicum of worry for what the current evolution of the collector’s edition indicates that the future holds, also wouldn’t be true at all.
From a distance I imagine it all must seem quite silly. It must seem silly that, from the myriad examples of overt corporate gluttony that modern gaming has to offer, that I choose to focus on something as seemingly nondescript as an eencie weencie statue. But that’s the whole point, really… it’s not about the statue. It’s almost never about the statue any more. The current state of collector’s editions is absolutely something worthy of a discussion, and to flippantly just shrug off those inklings you have, those inklings that, hey, why don’t I get that season pass? Why is there another, better, more collector-ey edition to this game that I didn’t know about? Why is this edition £40 more expensive when the statue obviously didn’t cost £40 to make?, shrugging these questions off is quietly a signal to publishers that this is absolutely permissible, which I absolutely don’t believe it to be.
To better explain my point I’m going to give you a small example of gamer etymology. Have you ever just stepped back and looked at the phrase ‘collector’s edition’? ‘Edition’ is fairly self explanatory, it’s a synonym of version, but the word ‘collector’ is vital in all this. A collector is a fan of a series of homogeneous objects who collects them as a hobby. However, this doesn’t really apply that well to video games as collecting is traditionally associated with antique and inanimate objects, stamps, dolls, lego, paintings. Games are a new media and it’s strange to simply collect such a thing in its disc form without actually playing it, people who own a lot of DVDs aren’t necessarily DVD collectors, they’re just film fans. People who collect mint condition alien figurines collect them for what they are at surface value, which is most of what they could offer anyway, collectors of games actually use the product because to keep them in mint packaging condition would only yield you a surface value of box art. I mean, mint condition collectors are at least quirky but to collect video games without using them is really bloody bonkers. Which is probably why no one does that. You don’t have collectors of games, I can line my walls with the amount of game disc boxes I have but that doesn’t make me a collector, I just own a lot. In short, to be a collector is to buy games for the surface value of them rather than the substance of the product. I don’t know of anybody who would actually buy a collector’s edition to collect it. Once you remove that small strip of tape from the box, you immediately stop becoming a collector. Even if you’re just buying it for the statue, you’re utilizing the product which transforms you from a collector back into the consumer. This is one reason why I disagree with the title ‘collector’s edition’. Another is that the word ‘collector’ implies that there must be a small enough gamut of homogeneous objects so that they become worth collecting. Games have a too wide a gamut to simply be collected. ‘Collecting’ games is like ‘collecting’ clothes. It’s something in which you can never run out of things to collect, moreover it’s something that isn’t batch produced. It makes sense to collect old Alberto Vargas pin-ups because only a few exist in the world. Which is why if you have to ‘collect’ games it might as well be ones from a specific franchise. You can’t just go out and collect every single video game, there’s no point in this increasingly digital market, but you can ‘collect’ Metal Gear Solid games for instance, in the most tenuous sense of the word.
I’m okay with Metal Gear Solid 3 having a collector’s edition. When it’s about the franchise, I’m okay with that! And that’s what it started out as. Collector’s editions began as a thank you to loyal, curious fans who yearn for memorabilia for what they love. This is why the first Metal Gear Solid collector’s edition came in at the third instalment. At this point, fans had the opportunity to become collectors. Take a step back and think how bloody ridiculous it was that Destiny had two ‘collector’s’ editions. It was an unreleased IP, we couldn’t even be fans of the game let alone collectors. And yet Activision came forth to all collectors for the chance to get their own little Dinklebot. Collectors of what exactly? Activision games? First person shooters? Peter Dinklage laden products?
It’s not really about rewarding the fans of franchises anymore, that stopped a long time ago. Eventually collector’s editions were implemented for entirely new franchises like Assassin’s Creed, which I suppose you could argue rewards fans of a certain developer, but even then the link between the act of buying a special edition and being a ‘collector’ begins to become tenuous. And slowly the perks that these editions had to offer moved more from physical to digital realms, DLC, exclusive missions etc. This is where another problem begins to arise. With collector’s editions of multiplayer first person shooters I often see edition exclusive skins that you can wear to show that you own the edition to other players. Isn’t that a little bit crazy? Like the flaming helmet from the Halo: Reach collector’s edition… you can’t even see that you’re wearing it… it’s just there to prove that you own it. These multiplayer collector’s edition perks have become less about rewarding the players and more about ensuring that other players know they have it. With collector’s editions of single player games you often get exclusive DLC or in game skins, maybe even a skill tree or currency boost. I don’t like this. Firstly, creating a divide in the quality of experience of the actual game between those who have collector’s editions or not may possibly create a divide between those who have enough money or not. Secondly, not granting those who have been loyal enough to buy the most expensive edition the entire product, i.e. not including the season pass in the collector’s edition is probably the worst display of corporate greed I’ve ever seen. A variety of purchase options for a game in which none provide the entire experience is the definitive example of the current state of modern single player AAA gaming. It’s disgusting. Thirdly, having more than one collector’s edition, each separated by price, only continues to divide gamers by wealth and not fanaticism. Fourthly, re-releasing edition exclusive DLC in the months after initial release only retains the incentive for all parties to purchase post hate if it’s actually any bloody good.
All the politics of collector’s editions ensure that publishers gain the most money off their fans (which is made more likely in pre order culture) whilst simultaneously creating a situation in which no one has the full experience and no one is fully satisfied. So what can you do? Stop buying in to this system. Arkham Knight will probably be my last collector’s edition and pre-order ever. If no one buys this tacky garbage (really, Assassin’s Creed Black Flag? You can’t just print a screenshot on poor quality paper and call it a lithograph) then publishers will actually be forced to treat each customer as equal to each other. And, dare I say it, by buying the most inoffensive collector’s editions which genuinely don’t seem to harm those that weren’t as fortunate, you may very well be permitting the most offensive ones that do.